My son has been a part of the SAA family for quite a few years. I feel the most important part is EVERYONE at the school knows him and is looking out for his best interests. There is no difference in academic to participation to the arts/music or character development. He continues to be challenged and enjoys it at the same time. Tim has great vision and more importantly execution as well as soliciting frequent feedback to change for the long run.
Whether you live in the City or the Suburbs, it’s likely that your local public school faces some big challenges, including: large class sizes, uncertain funding streams, and onerous testing requirements. With a focus on teaching for the test, many public schools are cutting back on “non essentials” from art, to science, to gym, to gifted programs.
In this context, the Science and Arts Academy (SAA) stands in sharp contrast. It is a school that does it all. Its greatest strength may be its Science program, which is one of the best in the state. But as the name suggests, the Arts are also strong. It has an amazing Drama program, where all students love to participate. The Art program speaks for itself. All you have to do is walk through the halls to see the caliber of work. It also has a Music program has grown over time to include Orchestra, Band, and Choir. Private lessons are provided at the school, so it is really a one-stop shop for the frazzled modern parent.
Of course, the main reason parents send their kids to SAA is for the accelerated Math and English curriculum. Most of the students perform at least a year above grade level and for those that are 2-3 years advanced, the school places them appropriately. It is differentiated and challenging.
Lastly, as a parent, I have to say that I appreciate the SAA community. The school is relatively small so the parents, teachers, and students all know each other. It is a supportive environment where the big kids take care of the little kids and they all share a love of learning. There is nothing “uncool” about being smart at SAA; rather, it is a place where children go to thrive and excel. All you have to do is walk down the halls to see it and feel it. For those with gifted children, it is a truly great school.
My daughter has had many wonderful teachers at Science & Arts Academy. From a preschool teacher that understood her (and her worried parents) to elementary teachers who nurtured her and helped her understand herself, to middle school teachers who encouraged her to excel and who have prepared her for the next level. If I were to name each teacher, the list would be very long... We have been blessed.
I have been impressed (awed, thankful) to all of the teachers we have been lucky enough to have at SAA, but clearly the leadership, vision and commitment of the head of school, Tim Costello, is what puts this school in the 'extraordinary' category. He has a clear vision for what gifted education should be, he is compassionate, friendly and approachable, he is inclusive, passionate and driven.
In my child, I see her commitment to her school work and extracurricular activities as far above her age-matched peers in our public school. Gifted kids have a natural ability to persevere, but this school also fosters and environment where expectations are high, but obtainable, and effort, enthusiasm and commitment are recognized as much as grades.
Significant emphasis is placed on Social Emotional Learning; every teacher and staff is trained to incorporate this in the curriculum. The students are mentored in all areas of development: finding their own voice, respect and support of their peers, understanding peers of different backgrounds, ethnicities and talents. They are expected to put their best effort forward, whether academically or socially. These expectations are modeled by the staff and the older students. This is one of the kindest, friendliest groups of kids I have ever encountered.
My daughter attended a 'great' public elementary school from kindergarten through 3rd grade.
My daughter was extremely engaged and excited about school early on, but gradually became more frustrated, bored, and actually started acting out, which she hadn't ever done. She felt like she was not understood by teachers or other kids, and felt like she 'thought differently". These are typical feelings in gifted kids who are not challenged.
Our public school was clearly not meeting our needs for accelerated or advanced learners; the advanced student 'pull out' programs were minimal, and the fantastic program for gifted students was discontinued altogether.
In the fall of 2014 I enrolled my daughter in the Science and Arts Academy in Des Plaines, and I can say that the move has literally transformed my kid: she is engaged, excited, challenged, happy, encouraged, supported. The school is staffed by teachers who only teach gifted students, so they understand how these kids think, process and learn.
If your gut tells you that you have a really smart kid who is not thriving where he/she is, a gifted school is worth investigating. Making the move has really--no exaggeration- turned our lives around at home. These early years of education are when the kids get wired for success, and matching my talented kid's ability to the right environment, peers and teachers has been more important than any other parenting decision I have made. And, after looking at the other gifted schools in the Chicago area, SAA still outshines the other schools.
Small class sizes and they are experts at differentiation. Your child can be in grade level language arts and higher level math (or vice versa). This is done easily and, most importantly with age level peers! It's completely accepted to be smart, or artistic, or both! Both of my kids enjoy school and have an amazing learning environment.
SAA has an amazing gifted program which focuses on a child's social and emotional learning - its has equally awesome (read: friendly, non judgmental) students and dedicated teachers. Ever since we moved, our child is happy and always challenged - never bored! For instance, he is in grade 3 but according to his capability he is now doing grade 5 Math, just what I love about this school, you can be as challenged as your growth will allow and the school will support that all the way! The general environment, students, and teachers make SAA an amazing place, and we couldn't recommend it enough.